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OHSU patient bound for Paris to compete in Paralympics

Rower Todd Vogt is an inspiration for others with early onset Parkinson’s disease
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Rower Todd Vogt in a rowboat on the water in Portland. Portland rower Todd Vogt trains on the Multnomah Channel near Sauvie Island on Friday, May 10, 2024. Overcoming Parkinson’s disease and age, Vogt will represent the United States in the Paralympic Games this summer in Paris. (OHSU/Erik Robinson)
Portland rower Todd Vogt trains on the Multnomah Channel near Sauvie Island on Friday, May 10, 2024. Overcoming Parkinson’s disease and age, Vogt will represent the United States in the Paralympic Games this summer in Paris. (OHSU/Erik Robinson)

UPDATE: Story corrects Todd Vogt's birth date.

A growing body of research suggests exercise improves clinical outcomes for people with Parkinson’s disease — and Todd Vogt has taken it to an entirely different level.

Rower Todd Vogt wears a white hat and burgundy shirt, smiling indoors.
Todd Vogt

The Portland rower and Oregon Health & Science University patient, who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s in 2018 at age 43, has been selected to compete in the Paralympic Games this summer in Paris. He will represent the United States in mixed doubles, alongside 21-year-old Saige Harper of Fairfield, Connecticut.

“I don’t want to be hyperbolic about it, but it’s going to be life-changing to be there,” Vogt said. “It’s going to be awesome.”

Parkinson’s affects about 1.5 million people in the U.S. alone, with symptoms that include tremor, muscle stiffness, slow movement and problems with coordination and balance. Symptoms tend to get progressively worse over time.

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In Vogt’s case, he’s overcoming symptoms that include fatigue, weakness and involuntary tremor in his left hand and foot.

“I believe all the exercise I’ve been doing has delayed the progression,” he said.

Vogt will step up his normal four-hour daily exercise regimen next week as Harper arrives to join him in training near Sauvie Island. In the meantime, Vogt can be seen carving a wake in his sculling shell beginning at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, out of the Portland Boat Club.

His OHSU neurologist will be cheering him on.

Lauren Talman, M.D., has shoulder-length dark blonde hair and is wearing a black sleeveless top, smiling against a gray background.
Lauren Talman, M.D. (OHSU)

In fact, Lauren Talman, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine, says Vogt is a model patient and an inspiration for others. Beyond demonstrating the value of exercise through his own athletic achievements, Vogt has gone above and beyond in helping other patients come to grips with their diagnosis.

“He’s willing to be a resource and a mentor for others with early onset Parkinson’s,” she said.

In addition to overcoming Parkinson’s to compete on the world stage, Vogt will turn 50 on Aug. 31, just four days after the start of the Paralympics in Paris.

“It would be almost unheard of for the Olympics,” he said.

Overcoming Parkinson’s, time

Hans Feige, a member of the Portland Boat Club who coaches Vogt, said he’s regularly amazed by his workouts. Recently, Vogt clocked six minutes and 30 seconds over the equivalent of the standard 2,000-meter course on the ergometer, an indoor rowing machine.

To put that in perspective, Vogt’s personal best as a college rower at the University of Buffalo in the early 1990s was 6:20.

“Add 30 years and add Parkinson’s, and he’s only 10 seconds slower,” Feige said.

“I had a little bit of a cold that day,” Vogt said, adding that he clocked 6:23 a year ago.

Last year’s release of the film, “The Boys in the Boat,” is likely to generate renewed interest in rowing during this year’s Summer Games. The movie is based on the 2013 book by Daniel James Brown, which chronicled the University of Washington’s unlikely gold-medal victory in eight-man crew during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Vogt has watched the movie, and he’s eager to extend the Pacific Northwest’s legacy in the sport.

Talman will be watching as his neurologist, but mainly just as a fan.

“He’s just a good human,” she said.

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